It has come to my attention that amongst the non-relgious communities (particularly online) some of us seem to think that being an atheist guarantees that you are the smartest being in the universe and being a theist guarantees stupidity.
There are so many problems with this mentality. To start off, it enfaces a stereotype that atheists are arrogant know-it-all elitists who regard a theist (no matter the mildness of their beliefs) to be worth no more than a molecule of dust on the ground. Obviously we all know this is an inaccurate stereotype.
Next there is the simple fact of reality that faith nor lack of faith will never guarantee a person of any level nor lack of intellect. There is after all such a thing as being so intelligent it literally drives one a little insane. Then of course there is the simple fact that there are religious scientists for example Georges Lemaître who proposed the very first principals of what later became known as the big bang theory.
I have been debating religion, the corruption of religion and atheism on the internet for a very long time. I myself used to be what you would call a "militant atheist". I absolutely detested religion to such an extent that I entirely blamed all the bad in the world on religion itself. I viewed religion as the source of all evil and I'm not the only non-believer who has ever thought this. The world would be better off with no religion at all I used to think. Now in saying that part of me still thinks the world would be somewhat better if people just lost interest in religion, maybe it would.
But what I have noticed between militant atheists and fundamental theists, is a level of extremism. And that is the real problem here. The problem is not religion, the problem is not atheism; but extremism as a whole. Any form of extremism is dangerous. And this extremism (whatever is form) is developed by obsession over a belief, idea, attitude, and sometimes misguided information. Extremism with atheists comes about very different to theistic extremism. With a fundamental Christian for example. They believe the bible literally to such an extent that they see themselves as warriors for God and will do literally anything to honour the name of God. There minds have been so twisted and warped into fully immersing into this belief system that they really believe they are doing the right thing. They believe its right to tell women they have a place, they believe its right to condemn or convert atheists, they believe its right to attack / discriminate against homosexuals. This is because they have become obsessed and have resorted to extremism. If they were not obsessed, they would not become extremists and would use their religion as a personal belief system in order to feel happy in life etc
Now extremism in atheists does come about very differently, but the core problem of obsession is still there. A lot of atheists are former theists. I've met a few atheists that have never been part of a religion (all online, none offline). But for the most part, most atheists were theists who renounced their faith. Now because of that there are a number of atheists who have had bad experiences with theists. I was subjected to a certain degree of homophobia when I went to Catholic school. We were punished in Catholic school if we did not attend mass and I viewed that as very fascist. Lets just say the attitude of some egotistical theists gets in our heads, we get very irritated and develop a hatred for religion and even the religious. Some atheists even go as far as calling themselves anti-theists. Now granted atheists are less extreme than the fundamentalist theists. Its very rare that you will meet an atheist who despises theists so much he/she wants every theist exterminated from the face of the earth. Joseph Stalin (as mad as he was, and even though he did have psychological problems) was one of such atheists. This was largely due to how he was treated by the religious as a youth. One might even argue that it was indeed the religious extremists in his institutions that pushed him over the edge. Never the less he hated religion and did what he felt was necessary to solve the problem of religion by banning it. For those of us who know the history of the Soviet Union, know that didn't exactly work out. And now it seems Russia has traded one form of extreemism for another as the current leader of Russia undergoes some very anti-gay laws inspired by the beliefs of the Russian Orthodox Christian Church.
I guess the point I am making here is not only that extremism has more than one form or another, but also that the existence of extremism is being used to generalise a group; be all theists or all atheists. Not all atheists are anything like Stalin and for that matter not all Christians (or other theists) are like Adolf Hitler. Both atheists and theists are guilty of generalising each other and making assumptions based on the most extreme of our communities. It is vitally important to acknowledge that not every theists is a scriptural literalist, there are many ways they can interoperate their holy books. It still doesn't persuade me to believing in it, but at least I understand that not all theists think I'm evil on two legs. There are even Christians who just accept what Jesus specifically said in the bible. This is how gay Christians balance faith and accepting themselves for who they really are.
And from a social perspective we just need to learn to live with each other. If one was to add up the population of theists in the world and compare it with the population of atheists; we would still come up as a minority. And as a minority, we are going to be in positions where we are working, studying, and even become friends with persons of faith. If one was to cast aside persons of faith due to identifying as an anti-theist, well lets just say you might have to experience a very lonely life.
As a humanist, for me what comes first is treating other human beings with dignity and the same respect I expect. I'm more interested in a persons characteristics in regard to how they treat others rather than their beliefs or non-beliefs. And I'm not saying all atheists are like this, there is number of us who are; so don't take this the wrong way.
I agree the whole atheist=smart/theist=dumb mentality is a very dangerous road to go down. I went to a Christian college where, of course, the majority of students were Christian and several of them were the smartest people I ever met. I too used to be a theist and left my religion, but not because I had a bad experience or was treated horribly. I just up and stopped believing. Even after I went publicly atheist the majority of my closest friends were theists (although, that is probably due in part to the fact that where I am from, atheists are very few and far between). Anyways, I guess the short version of this reply is that I agree extremism is bad and difference in beliefs is no reason for atheists and theists to hate/generalize each other.
Love your post! :-) I am coming from a perspective as a former theist myself who has up until recently thought along the same lines as you. I was never a militant atheist and was rather tolerant of those who hold faith of any kind. I was a Christian for many years and still know and understand Christian teaching, doctrine, and the mindset within the church very in depth. So while you have become a lot less militant I have become more to the point of what you might classify by your definition as “extremist” militant atheist, and let me explain why.
Let me demonstrate my point by telling you a story, since I’m sure you’ve heard every other cliché argument in the book by now, lol…
Imagine for a moment that there in a burning house. There is a girl inside and she cannot get out by herself. The smoke clouds her vision, and the inhailation of fumes leaves her sick and weak. She needs someone to pick her up and literally DRAG her out in order for her to survive. Her life is in danger and her only hope is the people outside. The people away from the fire who can see from the outside of the house and make sure they help her without putting her life more at risk.
Imagine a fire fighter saying, “let’s leave her in there a little while because she isn’t that bad. If she decides to come out she can walk out by herself. It’s just a small fire, nothing extreme.” Or imagine a neighbor saying, “She did it to herself, she set her own kitchen on fire, she’ll have to deal with the consequences, I’m not getting involved.” Imagine this same girl screaming for help and no one coming to her rescue. Why will no one risk their lives to save hers? Why do they not care? They are all indifferent, detached and uninvolved, and thinking of their own creature comforts and their own well-being. Understand that her life is in imminent and very real danger…and people are making excuses as to why they should not do something about it.
Now imagine this same girl immersed within the clutches of religion. The only difference is that the religion is like carbon monoxide poisoning. Imagine this girl staying inside where there is no light, and no sound of the outside world. She does not know she is slowly dying and her heart will eventually stop. She only knows that something is not right, but she doesn’t have the perspective to see or understand that she is being poisoned by the very air that she trusts will be safe. The neighbor knocks on the door and sees that she is unwell but doesn’t bother to do or say anything, thinking to themselves, “oh well, I’m having a bad day too, she’ll be fine…” without asking her is she’s OK. They leave without confronting her about the distress they see her under.
In both situations you have a woman who’s life is in danger. Are you going to do the extreme thing and save her? You might reason, “Well in the first scenario, of course! If there is a fire I will rescue her,”…or….in the second you might say, “I wouldn’t want to pry into her business or make her feel embarrassed by asking what’s wrong, so I’ll let her live my life and I’ll live mine, it’s none of my business….” In both of these examples I don’t really know how you would react or what you would do, but I would like to suggest to you to think about this same girl in the clutches of religion….
The girl goes to church every Sunday, smiles, laughs, has friends, and seems normal on the outside. But her life is being threatened every day by the low self-esteem, low self-worth, and guilt that is etched into her being by a pastor preaching that a woman is to submit to her husband, and that she must stay married for life. You see she is married to a man who yells at her and beats her, and beats her children. She tries to ask the pastor for advice and he ignores her. She tries to reach out to friends and they are like the people standing outside the burning house. They don’t want to get involved, they have their own problems. The girls looks for answers in the Bible. The answers MUST be there!!! She’s left with a choice between two verses. You may know them. Matthew 18 and Ephesians 5: Either call upon the church for “discipline” of the man who is hurting her, or submit to him. Neither of these categories fit her situation. Something is very wrong. She’s DYING inside. The very life within her is withering away. She doesn’t even know if living is worth doing anymore, afterall, her husband says she can’t do anything right, she is useless, and he doesn’t care what happens to her, as long as she maintains her “duties” and she should not complain about it. He hurts her physically but the emotional scars leave bruises that no one can see. The nightmares, and the physical maladies that form over the years are enough that SOMEONE should say something…but no one does. It would be pretty extreme for someone to go out of their way to get involved…
If you knew a girl was in trouble in any of these scenarios, what would you do? Would you sit back and let it all happen without a word? Would you jump in to help? Would you say SOMETHING? Would you DO something?
You see, every person on this planet who believes in God has a reason for it. Some of them are good and some of them are bad. The average theist may not be a threat and yes we can get along with them and coexist peacefully, but does that mean we should let people who are experiencing abuse of any kind suffer? If we have the means to help why don’t we? We afterall, US…the intellectual atheists…are the ones standing outside of the burning house watching it burn to the ground. We have the fire hose in OUR hands. Is it snobbery to speak the truth? Is it snobbery to be honest? Is it snobbery to do what we must to try to make this world as peaceful as possible?
The burning building could be seen as the church from my first scenario. There are millions of people being blinded by smoke, and they are all trapped inside. Some of them will never know what the world looks like outside the burning building, but they will stay inside because they are trapped for various reasons. Sometimes it takes someone brave enough to pick up a hurting person and drag them to safety. This is what it takes. If you don’t have this kind courage and fervor, and passion, and willingness, and generosity, then you are an indifferent onlooker from the outside of a burning building with live people inside as you watch them die a literal or figurative life, whether it be because they become victims of the abuse their religion teaches them, victim of a perpertrator that uses religion against them to abuse them, or victim of an immature mind that keeps them in blind submission to a false reality and they then waste their one and only precious life believing a lie, and following a road of decisions based on a falsehood that clouds their view. If you do nothing and simply say it’s their choice, I must respect them, then you watch them burn, slowly. If you try to rescue them the best you can, you can live with yourself at least knowing you did all you could do.
I do see all people who believe in God like living within a burning building. I see it that way because I know what religion teaches and I know what it did to me and I see the way people who believe in God make bad decisions based on lies. I don’t see the people inside the building as inferior or stupid, I do see them as blind and in danger, without realizing it most of the time, and I feel a duty to help them. I refuse to sit back and let it happen. I refuse to watch a building burn with people inside and do nothing.
Does this make me snobbish? Does it make me militant? Does it make me extreme? Does it make me dangerous? It makes me over the top? I don’t really give a shit what people call it, I got a fire to put out.
I like the burning building analogy, Belle. I also agree with the faithful's own self description in that they are like sheep or children. Are sheep very smart? No. Maybe a sheep is gifted in a particular area like math or science...but still a sheep is a sheep, none the less.
Ultimately I think the slaves of god often lack courage and intellectual honesty. Dreams of heavenly eternity and angels and virgins that await us if we play some prescribed role in one of 1,000s of the religious pageants. If atheists come off as being more intellectual, well it is what it is.
There are millions of people being blinded by smoke, and they are all trapped inside.
If only it were so, Belle. Many of those people decide to set themselves on fire and run out to their neighbour's house and try to burn it down as well, and spread that fire as much as they can because they think that their particular fire is good, and everyone needs to burn like they do.
Theists have every right to hold their beliefs, and I would never take that away from them. I must respect their right to believe, but there is absolutely zero reason why we need to respect the belief itself, especially when it is so unfounded, divisive and harmful to the greater good and progress of our species.
Either way, my answer to your post is:
Hello Bell, first of all I like your analogy, its very interesting. However, in this case one has no option but to make a tough choice, to save this girls life while risking their own life.
The vast majority of theists are not a fire needing to be put out, will not necessarily behave extreme and you'd be surprised how many ideals in reference to social liberties they share with you.
As a former Catholic I know what religious teaches too. But I also know that there are alternatives ways of interpreting many scriptures. There are many Christians for example that only focus on what Jesus said (or what they believe he said). There are also many Christians who mostly follow the positive aspects of Christianity (and yes it is cherry picking). Not every theist is forever trapped in a mental burning building. Many see faith as a private matter with its time and place. Many do put their faith aside in certain circumstances, for example they file for divorces, they manage to be gay and Christian at the same time, the have abortions under certain circumstances, they have sex outside marriage etc.
What I will say about your response is this, it is putting forward a generalisation. Generalisations never accomplish anything.
"What I will say about your response is this, it is putting forward a generalisation. Generalisations never accomplish anything. "
Is that a generalization on your part?
No, I'm actually making the point that not all theists are one way
No, my question was with regards to your assertion that generalizations never accomplish anything. That was a generalization.
As for all Theists being "one way", it would be necessary to know of the context to which you refer. I assert that all Theists are "one way" in that the believe in the existence of a "theity", correct?
My point was that no Theist has offered what I can accept as sufficient evidene for an "theity" which manifests. Failing a "theity" which manifests, we are left with the concept of a "theity" which does not manifest which leads to the obvious problem: "How can we differentiate between a "theity" which does not manifest and one which does not exist?"
Thats an observation Norm.
Theists may have strange beliefs to us, but they are still human beings and should be treated as such. When I say they are not all "one way", I mean they can be just as versatile in their thinking as we can be. And I am also talking about the fact that many of them interoperate their belief systems in many different ways. They are not all out of control or dangers etc.
I totally agree that no theist has been able to offer a good reason for believing in God or proving the claim that there is one. But that doesn't necessarily make them a bad or dangerous person.
My point and suggestion, is that we put the God question to one side, but our differences to one side and just get on with each other.
And I have no idea what "theity" is supposed to mean
Sorry, Keith. I overlooked that had not responded to:
"And I have no idea what "theity" is supposed to mean"
At first I assumed that you were ignoring the term as it only requires a simple Google to obtain a definition.
From: http://www.bahaistudies.net/asma/theity.pdf because this was the first returned and Baha'is are generally quite balanced in their approach.
Theity: an interventionist God, who created the universe and who is intimately involved with its affairs.
I would say most Christians are theists, since a non-interventionalist God would seem to me incompatible with a religion which upholds prayer and direct relationship with Christ.
I just heard this today as I was working.....
"Let me just tell you something: For hundreds and thousands of years, this kind of discussion would have been in most places impossible to have, or Sam and I would have been having it at the risk of our lives. Religion now comes to us in this smiling-face, ingratiating way, because it’s had to give so much ground, and because we know so much more. But you’ve no right to forget the way it behaved when it was strong, and when it really did believe that it had God on its side.
- Christopher Hitchens